Human Ecology

, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 749–758 | Cite as

Limits of State-Led Programs of Payment for Ecosystem Services: Field Evidence from the Sloping Land Conversion Program in Southwest China

  • Jun HeEmail author
  • Rong Lang


The Chinese government is currently implementing its Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP), the world’s largest Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) program. Few studies have comprehensively assessed both its environmental and its social outcomes; in particular, issues of effectiveness, efficiency and social fairness are rarely addressed in the literature. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, this research presents extensive field evidence of the effects of the SLCP. It also reveals the gap between the policy’s objectives and the actual results of implementation. Less marginal land included, poor tree species selection and undifferentiated household selection for participation have limited the positive outcomes of the SLCP. We argue that the state-led PES program’s bureaucratic modality and top-down implementation neglects local participation and pro-poor considerations. A more decentralized approach with more local participation is an important requirement in policy development and implementation for PES programs.


Forest governance Payments for ecosystem services Effectiveness Fairness Efficiency Sloping land conversion program Southwest China 



The fieldwork for this research was financed by the Ford Foundation Beijing (G 6600561) and the I-REDD+ project (funded by the European Union, project no. 265286). This research is also part of ESRC-funded research project (no. ES/K005812/1). We acknowledge the local officials and villagers for giving their time to share their insightful thoughts with us, and Zhengli Li, Mingming Wang and Bin Yang’s help with the questionnaire survey. Thanks also go to Sally Sutton for her copyediting assistance and Dr. Juan Carlos Laso Bayas for advice on statistical analysis. The paper has benefited significantly from the valuable comments of editors and two reviewers.


  1. Bennett, M. T. (2008). China’s Sloping Land Conversion Program: Institutional Innovation or Business as Usual? Ecological Economics 65(4): 699–711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bennett, M. T., Xie, C., Hogarth, N. J., Peng, D., and Putzel, L. (2014). China’s Conversion of Cropland to Forest Program for Household Delivery of Ecosystem Services: How Important is a Local Implementation Regime to Survival Rate Outcomes? Forests 5(9): 2345–2376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bryman, A. (2001). Social Research Methods. Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Chen, X., Lupi, F., He, G., Ouyang, Z., and Liu, J. (2009). Factors Affecting Land Reconversion Plans Following a Payment for Ecosystem Service Program. Biological Conservation 142(8): 1740–1747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Corbera, E., Brown, K., and Adger, W. N. (2007). The Equity and Legitimacy of Markets for Ecosystem Services. Development and Change 38(4): 587–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Corbera, E., Soberanis, C. G., and Brown, K. (2009). Institutional Dimensions of Payments for Ecosystem Services: An Analysis of Mexico’s Carbon Forestry Programme. Ecological economics 68(3): 743–761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Daniels, A. E., Bagstad, K., Esposito, V., Moulaert, A., and Rodriguez, C. M. (2010). Understanding the Impacts of Costa Rica’s PES: Are We Asking the Right Questions? Ecological economics 69(11): 2116–2126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Engel, S., Pagiola, S., and Wunder, S. (2008). Designing Payments for Environmental Services in Theory and Practice: An Overview of the Issues. Ecological economics 65(4): 663–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Grieg-Gran, M., Porras, I., and Wunder, S. (2005). How Can Market Mechanisms for Forest Environmental Services Help the Poor? Preliminary Lessons from Latin America. World development 33(9): 1511–1527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gross-Camp, N. D., Martin, A., McGuire, S., Kebede, B., and Munyarukaza, J. (2012). Payments for Ecosystem Services in an African Protected Area: Exploring Issues of Legitimacy, Fairness, Equity and Effectiveness. Oryx 46(01): 24–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. He, J., and Sikor, T. (2015). Notions of Justice in Payments for Ecosystem Services: Insights from China’s Sloping Land Conversion Program in Yunnan Province. Land Use Policy 43: 207–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. He, J. (2014). Governing Forest Restoration: Local Case Studies of Sloping Land Conversion Program in Southwest China. Forest Policy and Economics 46: 30–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. He, J., Lang, R., and Xu, J. (2014). Local Dynamics Driving Forest Transition: Insights from Upland Villages in Southwest China. Forests 5(2): 214–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fisher, J. A., Patenaude, G., Meir, P., Nightingale, A. J., Rounsevell, M. D., Williams, M., and Woodhouse, I. H. (2013). Strengthening Conceptual Foundations: Analysing Frameworks for Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation Research. Global Environmental Change 23(5): 1098–1111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kolinjivadi, V. K., and Sunderland, T. (2012). A Review of Two Payment Schemes for Watershed Services from China and Vietnam: The Interface of Government Control and PES Theory. Ecology and Society 17(4): 10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kinzig, A. P., Perrings, C., Chapin III, F. S., Polasky, S., Smith, V. K., Tilman, D., and Turner II, B. L. (2011). Paying for Ecosystem Services—Promise and Peril. Science 334: 603–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Li, J., Feldman, M. W., Li, S., and Gaily, G. C. (2011). Rural Household Income and Inequality Under The Sloping Land Conversion Program in Western China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(19): 7721–7726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Liu, C., Lu, J., and Yin, R. (2010). An Estimation of Effects of China’s Priority Forestry Programs on Farmers’ Income. Environmental Management 54(3): 526–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Liu, J., Li, S., Ouyang, Z., Tam, C., and Chen, X. (2008). Ecological and Socioeconomic Effects of China’s Policies for Ecosystem Services. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105(28): 9477–9482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Locatelli, B., Rojas, V., and Salinas, Z. (2008). Impacts of Payments for Environmental Services on Local Development in Northern Costa Rica: A Fuzzy Multi-Criteria Analysis. Forest Policy and Economics 10(5): 275–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ma, H., Lu, Y., Xing, Y., He, G., and Sun, Y. (2009). Rural Households’ Attitude and Economic Strategies Toward the Conversion of Cropland to Forest and Grassland Program (CCFG): A Case Study in Qira, China. Environmental Management 43(6): 1039–1047.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Martin, A., Gross-Camp, N., Kebede, B., and McGuire, S. (2014). Measuring Effectiveness, Efficiency and Equity in an Experimental Payments for Ecosystem Services Trial. Global Environmental Change 28: 216–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Muradian, R., Corbera, E., Pascual, U., Kosoy, N., and May, P. H. (2010). Reconciling Theory and Practice: An Alternative Conceptual Framework for Understanding Payments for Environmental Services. Ecological Economics 69(6): 1202–1208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. O’Brien, K., and Li, L. (1999). Selective Policy Implementation in Rural China. Comparative Politics 31(2): 167–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pagiola, S., Arcenas, A., and Platais, G. (2005). Can Payments for Environmental Services Help Reduce Poverty? An Exploration of the Issues and the Evidence to date from Latin America. World development 33(2): 237–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pagiola, S. (2008). Payments for Environmental Services in Costa Rica. Ecological economics 65(4): 712–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pascual, U., Phelps, J., Garmendia, E., Brown, K., Corbera, E., Martin, A., and Muradian, R. (2014). Social Equity Matters in Payments for Ecosystem Services. BioScience 64(11): 1027–1036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pattanayak, S., Wunder, S., and Ferraro, P. J. (2010). Show Me the Money: Do Pay-Ments Supply Environmental Services in Developing Countries? Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 4: 254–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. To, P. X., Dressler, W. H., Mahanty, S., Pham, T. T., and Zingerli, C. (2012). The Prospects for Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) in Vietnam: A Look at Three Payment Schemes. Human Ecology 40(2): 237–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schomers, S., and Matzdorf, B. (2013). Payments for Ecosystem Services: A Review and Comparison of Developing and Industrialized Countries. Ecosystem Services 6: 16–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sikor, T., Martin, A., Fisher, J., and He, J. (2014). Towards an Empirical Analysis of Justice in Ecosystem Governance. Conservation Letters doi: 10.1111/conl.12142.Google Scholar
  32. SFA (State Forestry Administration). (2002). Improving implementation of the Sloping Land Conservation Program. Policy Document by State Council.Google Scholar
  33. Suhardiman, D, D. Wichelns, G. Lestrelin, C.T. Hoanh (2013) Payments for ecosyst. services in Vietnam: market-based incentives or state control of resources? Ecosystem. Services 6: 2–11.Google Scholar
  34. Uchida, E., Xu, J., Xu, Z., and Rozelle, S. (2007). Are the Poor Benefiting from China’s Land Conservation Program? Environment and Development Economics 12(4): 593–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. van Noordwijk, M., and Leimona, B. (2010). Principles for Fairness and Efficiency in Enhancing Environmental Services in Asia: Payments, Compensation, or Co-Investment? Ecology and Society 15(4): 17.Google Scholar
  36. van Noordwijk, M., Leimona, B., Jindal, R., Villamor, G. B., Vardhan, M., Namirembe, S., and Tomich, T. P. (2012). Payments for Environmental Services: Evolution Toward Efficient and Fair Incentives for Multifunctional Landscapes. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 37: 389–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Vatn, A. (2010). An Institutional Analysis of Payments for Environmental Services. Ecological Economics 69(6): 1245–1252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Weyerhaeuser, H., Wilkes, A., and Khral, F. (2005). Local Impacts and Responses to Regional Forest Conservation and Rehabilitation Programs in China’s Northwest Yunnan Province. Agricultural Systems 85(3): 234–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wunder, S. (2005). Payments for environmental services: some nuts and bolts. No. CIFOR Occasional Paper no. 42.Google Scholar
  40. Wunder, S., Engel, S., and Pagiola, S. (2008). Taking Stock: A Comparative Analysis of Payments for Environmental Services Programs in Developed and Developing Countries. Ecological economics 65(4): 834–852.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Xu, Z., Bennett, M. T., Tao, R., and Xu, J. (2004). China’s Sloping Land Conversion Programme Four Years On: Current Situation, Pending Issues. International Forestry Review 6(3–4): 317–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Xu, J., Yin, R., Li, Z., and Liu, C. (2006). China’s Ecological Rehabilitation: Unprecedented Efforts, Dramatic Impacts, and Requisite Policies. Ecological Economics 57(4): 595–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Yin, R., Liu, C., Zhao, M., Yao, S., and Liu, H. (2014). The Implementation and Impacts of China’s Largest Payment for Ecosystem Services Program as Revealed by Longitudinal Household Data. Land Use Policy 40: 45–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yin, R., and Zhao, M. (2012). Ecological Restoration Programs and Payments for Ecosystem Services as Integrated Biophysical and Socioeconomic Processes—China’s Experience as an Example. Ecological Economics 73: 56–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Economics and ManagementYunnan Agricultural UniversityKunmingChina
  2. 2.World Agroforestry Centre, ICRAF East and Central Asia Regional ProgramKunmingChina
  3. 3.Institute of Plant Production and Agroecology in the Tropics and SubtropicsUniversity of HohenheimStuttgartGermany

Personalised recommendations